I started researching my Gran’s family history a couple of years before she died – she had told me some very intriguing stories about her ancestors and said she’d like to know if they were true or not. She was very pleased to be interviewed at length and said she thought her paternal ancestors were originally from Dorset – a photograph of her great-grandmother was taken in Dorchester, which was a useful clue. With help from many genealogy websites and fellow researchers, it took me over a year to untangle some of the complicated lives of her ancestors, who did indeed come from Dorset – they were dairy farmers and agricultural labourers. Gran loved to hear the many juicy details being confirmed – illegitimate births, a bigamous marriage – and I enjoyed the challenge! Her great-grandparents, Edward Crofts and Susannah Gale, were born in Dorset but got married in East Cramlington, Northumberland, where Edward had gone for work to replace the striking miners in 1865. They returned to Dorset a few years later – probably to look after aging parents (Susannah’s parents died in 1870 and 1874) – and then moved again a few years later to Manchester to work in the factories there. Edward got a job as a stoker in a cotton factory but unfortunately he died in 1883, aged only 49, of ailments related to the hard work and the heat of the job. Susannah was left living in a small house with 5 children between 5 and 16 years old, her eldest daughter Kitty age 25, Kitty’s two sons, and later on even Kitty’s granddaughter (my Gran, who was born in 1919, a couple of years before Susannah died).
Out of all the pieces of the puzzle that I’d fitted together, I couldn’t find out where Edward Crofts was in the 1861 census, before he married Susannah. After searching everywhere I could think of, I eventually decided the census record must be missing and gave up looking for a while. About 2 years after this, I got a phone call out of the blue from my 2nd cousin Sam, who said she was interested in finding out more about our family history and had heard I was the person to ask. She said, “All I have is details on this Edward Crofts, who went to British Columbia, but I don’t know how he fits into our family.” It wasn’t until she told me he had only stayed there for 5 or 6 years, that I realised that this might be the same guy I was looking for. He had gone to British Columbia from 1858 to 1863-4 – which fitted the time period that my Edward Crofts was missing from England! It was like I had a gap in my jigsaw puzzle and Sam had the one piece I was looking for – it was amazing! We discovered that a bunch of young men were taken to British Columbia in the 1850s to work as Sappers in the Royal Engineers, doing rebuilding, working in the mines, etc. In 1863-4 the post ended and they were given the opportunity to settle there or to return home. Either way, they were all given a plot of land to keep, as a thank you for their services to the crown. Edward’s plot of land was an island, named Crofts after him, and he returned home, married Susannah, and now we’re back at the beginning of my story again.
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